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Letters to the Editor

24 February 2023


Stipends in the cost-of-living crisis

From Mr Ian Boothroyd

Sir, — Your report on the recent sessions of the General Synod (17 February) omitted my brief contribution to the debate on the cost-of-living crisis. I confess that I was a little disappointed, not least because I spoke about the decline in the real value of clergy stipends, resulting from the growing gap between the increases in the national benchmark and the current levels of inflation.

That gap by this year will be nearly seven per cent in total over the past three years: a fall in real income which will remain every year until remedied, even if inflation falls to zero. We learnt at the Synod that the Archbishops’ Council now has an “aspiration . . . to seek to maintain the value of the stipend against inflation over the medium term as far as possible”. There was no guidance on the likely length of the “medium term”.

Budgeting will be difficult for many dioceses in these challenging times, but it is also hard for clergy and families; and the cost of closing the gap is small compared with the resources of the Church of England. So far, I estimate, the annual cost is a little over 0.1 per cent of total reserves and assets. With good will and some mutual support, this should be well within reach.

The Church’s greatest asset, of course, is its people, including the clergy called by God to lead the proclamation of the Good News throughout the country’s parishes. I hope that the growing shortfall in the value of their income can be tackled with more urgency.

Synod member (Southwell & Nottingham)
4 Murdoch Close, Farnsfield
Newark NG22 8FE

Chapter needs to act on Bell name

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — Roy Sully (Letters, 17 February) is entirely right to call for the restoration of the name George Bell House to the diocesan guest house at 4 Canon Lane, Chichester. Although Dr Warner’s view must surely be influential, restoring Bell’s name is, however, a matter for the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral, not the bishop.

After the recent retirement of the Very Revd Stephen Waine as Dean, the former Dean of St Paul’s, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, was installed by Dr Warner on 11 January as Acting Dean, to serve until Easter 2023.

May I suggest that Bishop Knowles could ensure that his brief tenure as Dean is memorable by securing the restoration of Bell’s name — a restoration that, at the latest, should have followed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology for his “significant cloud” remark (News, 19 November 2021).

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

Speeches and votes in the Synod’s LLF debate

From Mr Mike Lawlor

Sir, — As a lay person, I read with interest the report of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) debate (Synod, 17 February). I am a worshipper at HTB Queen’s Gate St Augustine’s, in London.

I was rather surprised to read of the amendment moved by Busola Sodeinde, whom you report as being a PCC member of HTB, that the outcome of blessing sincere same-sex Christian couples from one minority who have already globally experienced much discrimination would be “racially unjust” to other minorities in overseas settings. In her full speech, Mrs Sodeinde referred to violence in places such as Nigeria as a possible consequence of the blessings.

This false equivalence is wrong on all sorts of levels. First, she identified the HTB parish make-up as being “42 per cent global-majority-heritage”. Even if it is (and, as a worshipper there, I am honestly unaware of such figures), unless she has carried out a survey of what these individual members of our congregation (and, indeed, the rest of us) feel on the matter, then this figure is completely meaningless.

Second, in these islands, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church have both, thankfully, already passed and implemented resolutions on such blessings without leading to a slaughter of the innocents in any part of the world. I am certain that Boko Haram and other such groups are not hanging on every word of the Synod’s debates before perpetrating their violence. This, therefore, is a false equivalence and a misguided attempt to excuse discrimination against one group of Christians so that another group may escape discrimination.

Third, I would imagine that if there were a survey of our congregation at HTB — or, indeed, of any parish — on all sorts of matters, from same-sex blessings to the nature of the eucharist, there would be a myriad of differing responses.

We are called by LLF to do just that: love, respect, and understand our differences as we travel forward together as a Church. Those who feel that they cannot in all conscience carry out the blessings are to be as respected as much as those who will thankfully and joyfully offer them at last, and by doing so issue words of warm welcome — which is the way it should be.

Those who seek false equivalence, together with others who are launching attempts to promote schism by threatening to withhold contributions to the central finances of our Church, are both doing quite the opposite of Living in Love and Faith.

The Charterhouse
Charterhouse Square
London EC1M 6AN

From the Revd Dr Tom Woolford

Sir, — Mr Nic Tall (Letters, 17 February) asserts that the 57 per cent who voted for the Bishop of London’s LLF motion ought to be “the senior partner in shaping future directions”, specifically by “advancing LGBTQIA+ inclusion” as the “top priority”. He seems to forget that the final motion expressly included the stipulation that the Prayers of Love and Faith “should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”. Had that conservative amendment not succeeded, the whole motion could well have fallen.

Majorities in the Synod did not want even to consider legislating for same-sex marriage in the Church of England, neither this summer (55-39 per cent) nor in two years’ time (52-45 per cent). By Mr Tall’s own logic, conservatives on marriage doctrine ought to be “the senior partner”.

The Vicarage, 25A Station Road
New Longton, Lancashire PR4 4LN

Concern about an abuse survivor’s fresh ordeal

From Mrs M. Jacobs

Sir, — In my capacity as a trustee of a national charity that awards financial support to Christians wishing to go on a pilgrimage, a few years ago I was approached for help by a man who was attempting to rebuild his life after a traumatic childhood experience and to engage with his parish church.

He had been groomed and sexually abused by a man with no church connections, thought he had put it behind him, but in adulthood was unable to cope. When the matter was passed beyond counselling to the police, a prosecution ensued, and his abuser is now serving a very long prison sentence.

James (not his real name) trusted his vicar and told him his story. He was befriended and introduced to another older priest assisting in the parish, and they recommended that it would be beneficial for him to join the pilgrimage that the vicar was leading to the Holy Land. This was when I became involved, as, at that time, I was dealing with applications for grants. Apparently, also to save money, the older priest offered to share accommodation.

On his return, we expected James to give us a report on his experience; he was reluctant to do so, but, after some months, contacted me and recounted how what he had expected to be a wonderful spiritual journey had turned into a nightmare that he was finding it difficult to deal with. He asked my opinion on whether he should write to the priest he had shared with and tell him how he had affected him. The letter was sent, and, to my amazement, he received a reply immediately. The priest admitted to all the accusations of explicit sexual behaviour, and, in an attempt to stop the matter being taken further, said that his actions were normal for many clergy. The incident was investigated, and the priest lost his permission to officiate.

Had matters ended there, all might have been well. The safeguarding team involved were concerned about the behaviour of the pilgrimage leader, who, when asked to assist James in the Holy Land, treated the matter as of no consequence. James had no money to buy himself other accommodation or an air ticket home; he was subjected to a week of misery.

The leader’s account of events was significantly different from the older priest’s, as he squirmed to disassociate himself and was probably unaware that the older man had confessed to everything in writing.

This man also lost his PTO, and James was assured that, if this were reinstated, he would be given advance warning, so that he could avoid confrontation.

Confident, James started to engage with the life of the church and attended a major event in the summer. I was there and witnessed a most unfortunate encounter. No words were spoken, but there was a public display of arrogant contempt.

The safeguarding team said that they had forgotten to tell him that PTO had been reinstated and admitted that the daily update on the website was not happening.

James has been badly affected and alienated from the church. He has effectively been excommunicated and seems to have been “forgotten” by organisations with which he was previously involved. It is apparent that people in the area believe that this respected leader of the pilgrimage lost his PTO because, for some reason, James was intent upon destroying his reputation, and that, of course, he was innocent and James is mentally unstable.

Clergy are subject to the same temptations as the rest of humanity, but I find the thought that this man will be hypocritically hearing the confessions of unsuspecting laity on Shrove Tuesday quite repellent. He has shown no remorse, and his reinstatement and apparent vindication make him appear to be the victim.

James has never sought financial compensation nor the public disgrace of his abusers. He trusted the Church to ensure that these men were never again in a position to lead pilgrimages or engage with vulnerable people. This was all he asked or expected. He has been given humiliation and contempt. I submit that it is his abusers who need counselling, and that the diocesan safeguarding teams should be composed of efficient people who really understand the life-changing and destructive effect that these powerful but immoral clergy have on their victims.

34 St Augustine’s Gate
Norwich NR3 3BE

Parishes and ‘failure’

From the Revd James Dwyer

Sir, — I read with interest the extracts from Dr Emma Ineson’s new book, Failure (Features, 17 February).

As I reflected on her perspective of failure, I could not help but be reminded of the many times parishes and those who work hard to support them have felt under pressure to be “successful” according to the black-and-white metrics of average attendance and parish share.

Might this be an opportunity to reconsider what success looks like for parishes, and to celebrate the faithful service of countless saints over many generations?

The Vicarage, Chapel Road
Flackwell Heath HP10 9AA

Value of detailed survey

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — The Revd Professor Andrew Village and Canon Leslie Francis tell a very interesting story about the acceptability of online worship (Comment, 17 February). The resourcefulness of churches in providing online services during Covid was impressive. But these raised many difficult practical and theological issues and were, in many ways, a poor substitute for in-person worship.

The detailed empirical research now available tells us how patchy their acceptability was: less to clergy than to laity, to Catholics than to Evangelicals, to men than to women, to younger than to older, etc. It is a model of the kind of careful, detailed, and professional research that the Church needs if it is to plan well for the future.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

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